HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World


HIST 2F90 - Money and Power in the Atlantic World, 1400-1850

Brock University 2020-21

Syllabus Version: 3 September 2020

Professors: Mike Driedger and Danny Samson
Teaching Assistants: William Birrell and Nathan Cecckin
Liaison Librarian: John Dingle
Contact Information: Please use the Messages tool in Sakai to contact members of the teaching team.

Times and Locations: There are no scheduled lectures or seminar meetings. However, there are weekly online readings and assignments, and you must plan time throughout each week during the academic year to work on these. It is your responsibility to keep up with assignments and stay on schedule. New Lessons start on Wednesdays at noon.

This course explores the practice of history through an examination of the early modern Atlantic World. We will combine an emphasis on traditional historical practices with digital research tools.

​Additional Description:

Take a close look at the image above. Few works of art get at so much history, so simply. William Blake, a radical Romantic artist of the late 18th century, depicts three women in mutual embrace and support, portraying an allegory of human mutuality, particularly the way Africa and America supported Europe. The illustration looks peaceful and idyllic. It is from a book about a British officer’s experience in suppressing a rebellion of African slaves in America. Not much mutuality in that event! But the book’s author, John Stedman, used his experience to speak out against slavery and against the gross exploitation of Indigenous Americans. The book, like many of its kind, was not unambiguous (you’ll look at the full picture, and read an excerpt from Stedman’s writing later in the course). Indeed, some historians have commented that the illustration speaks more to the hypocrisies of Europeans in the colonial world than it does to any actions directed at fostering genuine mutuality. But as we'll see the world was not divided into simple good-and-bad, black-and-white characters. Progressive abolitionists could sometimes be misogynistic; conservative anti-democrats could sometimes be forceful critics of empire. In history as in life, contradictions and complications abound.

Europe was very clearly “supported” by African labour and American land – that is, we can see that Europe exploited America and Africa. But Blake saw something more. He meant his illustration as an allegory for an imagined future – of what might be, not of what was. Both Blake and Stedman saw clearly that Europe benefited by grossly unequal and decidedly non-mutual relationships. Both men were particularly active in the campaign to end the slave trade. Their vision of a mutually supportive Atlantic world economy and society was utopian.

The early modern era – roughly 1400-1800 – marks the rise of the West (essentially Western Europe, with the gradual addition of America) in global history. In 1400, Arab, Turkish, and Chinese empires were far more powerful, richer, and technologically advanced than any political force in the West. By 1800, the reverse was true. This course tracks that shift, that series of changes which brought about what we might call “the rise of the West”. That story is complex and even in this full-year course we will only scratch the surface of some of its many facets. But what we will see is that Blake, taken literally, was quite right: Europe was very much supported by Africa and America. Europe’s wealth came through many sources, but the real advances cannot even be imagined without the use of African labour and American land and resources. The Atlantic World (Europe, Africa, and the Americas) was in many ways a unified cultural and economic system, but its major players experienced that system very differently. This course explores that emergent Western dominance, with a keen eye to understanding the very different experiences that shaped it.

Course  Structure

The course does not have fixed class times, but all students must progress through the course at roughly the same pace, week by week. The course consists of an introductory week plus five modules of varying lengths:

  • Module 1. The Pre-Modern West
  • Module 2. Colonial Expansion
  • Module 3. Conflicting Worlds
  • Module 4. Revolutions
  • Module 5. The Early Liberal Era

Each module has between three and six lessons which we'll complete at the rate of one lesson per week. 

This course operates in two main online locations: in your course e-textbook (where you’re reading this syllabus), and on Sakai. The e-textbook is not a traditional textbook, of course, but it is meant to function in many regards like one. In it you'll find outlines, learning outcomes, and questions for each week, as well as general guidelines for the assignments. There are also links to video introductions and screencasts, as well as links to relevant online information. Your Sakai page is your workbook. The weekly readings and other sources are there, as are the forum where you'll post your comments (like an online seminar), the messages tool, and the tools you'll use to submit your actual assignments. See the video linked in the Overview page in Sakai for Prof. Samson's tour of Sakai.

Each week’s lesson plan will follow the same structure. It will consist of the following categories:

  • This week's big question (course e-text)
  • Video introduction (if available for that week, it will be in the course e-text)
  • Learning outcomes (course e-text)
  • Questions to consider, and learning activity (course e-text, plus activities on Sakai, such as forums)
  • Background (course e-text)
  • Toolbox (course e-text)
  • Primary sources (listed in course e-text, but access through Sakai)
  • Secondary sources (listed in course e-text, but access through Sakai)
  • Supplemental materials (course e-text)
You'll need to pay attention not only to the weekly readings and discussions, but also to the schedule of assignments. In addition to weekly forum contributions, module quizzes, and a final exam, there are 2 other graded assignments (from a choice of 3) in the first term, and 1 (from a choice of 2) in the second term. See the Assignments page in the e-textbook's drop-down menu for details.

Assignment guidelines will also follow a template that consists of these parts:

  • Introduction
  • Detailed instructions
  • Required resources
  • Deadline and submission details

Learning  Outcomes

Historians (i) contribute to public debates (ii) by making arguments (iii) that answer research questions (iv) using evidence analyzed according to thoughtful methods. The items on this list are examples of what you might consider learning outcomes for your overall university studies in history. Learning outcomes are meant to help the instructors and you gauge your learning and progress. Your work in this course will help you improve your knowledge, professional practice, and skills related to the abilities listed above. More particularly, you should pay attention to the following learning outcomes in your work in HIST 2F90.

By the end of the course a successful student will be able to...

  • Describe the major developments in the early modern Atlantic world.
  • Communicate ideas/arguments effectively and honestly in all course work.
  • Ask good historical questions and form strong arguments that answer these questions using the best evidence we can find.

In addition to this overall set of course learning outcomes, there are also more specific learning outcomes that are listed with each weekly lesson in Sakai.

Required Readings:

You are NOT required to buy a textbook for this course. All the readings will be provided to you online through Sakai. See each weekly lesson plans for details.

Reading Expectations:

Here’s an important note: In 2nd-year history courses it is common to read 40 to 60 pages per week. In this course we will not assign this much in the first few weeks, but we will increase the reading load as the course progresses. See the note about workload expectations that is included in the Introductory Lesson.

Course Communications:

This course will not work if you are not checking its online resources regularly. This includes checking this online textbook AND the Sakai Messages tool. You should use the Messages tool to write the instructors or other students. You are also welcome to "visit" the instructors via Teams; you can find out how to use Teams by going to the Sharepoint through my.brocku.ca. You may also call them by telephone. To arrange a phone or video discussion, please send an email to arrange a time.

TIP: When you write to Mike Driedger (professor for Term 1) or Danny Samson (professor for Term 2) in Sakai Messages, please make sure to choose the Instructor Role address in the drop-down address options. And when you want to write to William Birrell or Nathan Cecckin, the TAs for the full year, please choose the Teaching Assistant Role from that drop-down menu.

Note: Before you ask a question about the course, please make sure you try to answer it yourself by reading the syllabus and other course materials carefully. The instructors reserve the right to ignore frivolous messages.

        * * * Remember: Make sure that you check your Sakai Messages regularly!!! * * *

Course Grade Components

Assignment Details

You'll need to pay attention not only to the weekly readings and discussions, but also to the schedule of assignments. In addition to weekly forum contributions, module quizzes, and a final exam, there are 2 other graded assignments (from a choice of 3) in the first term, and 1 (from a choice of 2) in the second term. See the Assignments page in the e-textbook's drop-down menu for details.

Assignment guidelines will follow a template that consists of these parts:
  • Introduction
  • Detailed instructions
  • Required resources
  • Deadline and submission details
See the instructions and links at the Assignment Overview.

Forum Discussion Instructions


Sakai places you in a group of approximately 10 students. This will be your discussion group for the entire year.

Each week, everyone is expected to contribute to the discussion in their Forum. Remember that you have a limited time to complete your discussion contribution in the week’s Forum. If you do not post within the time allotted, you will not get credit for that week. Unless otherwise noted, each week’s Forum will open on Wednesday at noon and close at the very end of the day the following Tuesday. Plan to post early in each Forum so that you and others in your group can develop a rich discussion online. You’ll all learn more this way!

You read documents every week in preparation for the discussion group, so be aware of what you need to do to prepare, when you’re expected to comment, and plan your time accordingly. Also plan to read all the previous posts for the week’s Forum before you post anything new. When we grade your work, we’ll expect that you’ve done this. The strongest posts will show evidence that you’ve read the previous discussion for the week.

Be sure to post on time so that others have time to read, think and respond.

NOTE: We wish to encourage early posting, and we want all of you to be engaging with one another regularly in the Forum discussions.
A good basic post examines the viewpoint of the author(s), works with the evidence in the source(s), and situates the source(s) you are using as evidence in a broader framework.
Posts in the first 48 hours after the forum opens that meet these standards, and which engage effectively with other student posts, will receive a 15 per cent bonus.

Few of our questions for discussion in the Forums have simple, correct answers. We’re most interested in seeing all class members engage with each other in meaningful dialogue. Therefore, try to establish positions or arguments based on evidence in the assigned sources, rather than simply stating facts or opinions. Furthermore, each time you post you should choose one or two posts and really engage with what those people are saying:

  • agree or disagree with their interpretation of evidence -- but ALSO provide further reasons for your response;
  • ask for clarification based on good reasons; or
  • challenge them to provide more examples / take their thoughts further.

How long should your posts be? Most posts should be in the range of 150 to 250 words. Sometimes, you may need to say more, others less. But generally, whatever number of words you write, you should be answering one (or more) of our questions, using evidence from that week’s sources, and engaging with your classmates.

Forum Assessment

You are required to post each week. Some weeks have more activities than others, but they are all listed on the module page and in the Course Schedule so you will have plenty of time to prepare yourself for all activities.

We do recognize that life can be complicated in normal times, and these times are not so normal. Therefore, if you miss posting to the Forums for up to two weeks, we will not deduct any grades from your Forum grade. See below for the consequences of missing more than two Forums.

Because student contributions are so important for the course, your Forum participation grades will be determined on the basis of not just regular posts in the weekly discussion activities but by creating engaging, thought-provoking commentary and responses to questions that we provide, as well as by initiating new discussion threads that show creative and critical engagement with the topics.

We will provide Forum grades 5 times in the year -- after each Module. To help you understand the standards for the weekly discussions, this scale (together with the comments above) might be helpful:
  • A - Thoughtful, timely and excellent contributions that stimulate discussion and provide insightful comments with solid grounding in the sources and other students’ comments for the week.
  • B or C - Effective contributions that invite comment and demonstrate some knowledge of the sources and other students’ comments. (These are clearly on the right path, but could still be improved.)
  • D - Little or no effort given to posting, and / or the contribution was divergent from the discussion and the readings, and / or the post demonstrated little effort to engage with other students’ ideas.
  • F - No contribution.

Late Submission Policy:

Unless otherwise outlined, the penalties for late submission of assigned coursework are 10% of the assignment grade for the first day late and 5% per day thereafter, unless accompanied by medical documentation, or documentation of other serious reasons. See Medical Exemption Policy and the medical health certificate at
https://brocku.ca/registrar/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/Medical-Certificate.pdf .

Relationship between regular online participation and grades:

Forum discussions are the heart of this course. Your grades will reflect the regularity and most especially the quality of your weekly contributions. Posts should strive to build conversations – that is, they should engage, and offer thought-provoking commentary and questions for deepening the discussions. New posts should engage with the reading material and posts from other participants, and should always bring out evidence from the readings. The point is to analyze our sources through discussion, and to build and develop the conversation with other students to that end.

Failure to participate in Forum discussions will lose you points!! Students are expected to contribute each week to all Forum discussions. Forum discussions are allocated 30 points on your final grade. Failure to contribute to more than TWO weekly forums will be penalized 1.5 out of the 30 points per late or missed week thereafter. Late Forum posts will not be accepted for credit.

We will provide you detailed instructions for Forum discussions via Sakai Messages.

Important dates:

(check the section on important dates in the relevant online University calendar)

  • Friday, January 8, 2021, is the date by which you will be notified of 15% of your course grade.
  • Friday, January 15, 2020, is the last date for withdrawal from the course without academic penalty.

Academic  Policies

Academic Integrity:

The principle of academic integrity, particularly of doing one’s own work, documenting properly (including use of quotation marks, appropriate paraphrasing and referencing/citation), collaborating appropriately, and avoiding misrepresentation, is a core principle in university study. Academic misconduct is a serious offence. Students should consult Section VII, “Academic Misconduct”, in the “Academic Regulations and University Polices” entry in the Undergraduate Calendar, available at  http://brocku.ca/webcal to view a fuller description of prohibited actions, and the procedures and penalties.

Plagiarism software:

You will submit most of your assignments through Turnitin.com, a phrase-matching program online. See the assignment details on Sakai for more information. If you have a good, principled reason for objecting to uploading your assignments to Turnitin.com, please notify the instructors before the end of Week 3 to discuss alternative ways to submit your assignments. Alternatives will include some mechanism for you to demonstrate your adherence to the principles of academic integrity.

Academic Accommodation:

As part of Brock University's commitment to a respectful work and learning environment, the University will make every reasonable effort to accommodate all members of the university community with disabilities. If you require academic accommodations related to a documented disability to participate in this course, you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities in the Student Development Centre (4th floor Schmon Tower, ex. 3240). You are also encouraged to discuss any accommodations with the instructor well in advance of due dates and scheduled assessments.

Academic Accommodation due to Religious Obligations:

Brock University acknowledges the pluralistic nature of the undergraduate and graduate communities such that accommodations will be made for students who, by reason of religious obligation, must miss an examination, test, assignment deadline, laboratory or other compulsory academic event.

Students requesting academic accommodation on the basis of religious obligation should make a formal, written request to their instructors for alternative dates and/or means of satisfying requirements.

Medical Exemption Policy:

The University requires that a student be medically examined in Health Services, or by an off- campus physician prior to an absence due to medical reasons from an exam, lab, test, quiz, seminar, assignment, etc. The Medical Certificate can be found at: https://brocku.ca/registrar/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/Medical-Certificate.pdf.


Schedule of Themes and Assignments

Your next step is to read the course introduction.

This page references: